England’s restriction on overseas-based players to stay – Premiership Rugby CEO

England’s restriction on overseas-based players to stay – Premiership Rugby CEO

England’s restriction on selecting players based abroad will remain in place for the next agreement overseeing the domestic game, according to Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor.

Massie-Taylor insists there is no desire among Premiership sides nor the Rugby Football Union to relax a rule designed to keep the country’s top stars at home as well as giving England’s head coach greater control over his players.

An ‘exceptional circumstances’ clause saw Toulouse’s Jack Willis picked during the Six Nations, but he is the lone example of its use since 2011 with dispensation only granted because of Wasps’ financial collapse in October.

Steve Borthwick wants the overseas policy eased in order to pick the “best players available” for his England team amid a recent spate of signings for Top 14 sides, including Luke Cowan-Dickie, David Ribbans and Joe Marchant.

Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor is involved in negotiations for the next Professional Game Agreement
Premiership Rugby chief executive Simon Massie-Taylor is involved in negotiations for the next Professional Game Agreement (PA/handout)

But that prospect has been ruled out as talks continue over the new Professional Game Agreement that comes into effect from July 2024.

“Having our English players playing within the Premiership is important for England and for the Premiership,” Massie-Taylor told the PA news agency at an event for Funding Circle, the UK’s largest small business lending platform.

“From the RFU’s, ours and even the players’ perspective we all see the importance of England internationals playing domestically.

“Provisions exist for exceptional circumstances that will probably still carry on going forward, but we all agree England international players should be playing in the Premiership.

“There will always be an international market for players and players have that choice to go abroad and not play for England.”

Jack Willis played for England during the Six Nations using the 'exceptional circumstances' rule
Jack Willis played for England during the Six Nations using the ‘exceptional circumstances’ rule (Ben Whitley/PA)

The latest incarnation of the PGA that shapes the landscape of the English game promises to be a fine tuning of the current arrangement rather than a significant overhaul, ending the prospect of players being directly contracted to the RFU.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall stated on Wednesday that central contracts should be “top of the agenda”, while also tabling the idea of a “salary share”.

Due to the precarious financial climate, Premiership clubs are finding it harder to justify producing England players who are absent for lengthy periods of the season, even when compensation payments made by the RFU are factored in.

Massie-Taylor, who says PGA negotiations are being driven by a “desire to see a winning England and winning English clubs”, reveals that a middle ground is being sought to mitigate the risk to a league that saw Wasps and Worcester enter administration earlier in the season.

“We have an existing system in place in terms of access and historically that’s worked pretty well. We are discussing how that can be improved,” he said.

Maro Itoje (left) and Owen Farrell (right) are two players supplied by Saracens to England
Maro Itoje (left) and Owen Farrell (right) are two players supplied by Saracens to England (Ben Whitley/PA)

“Alongside that – and I think this is perhaps what Mark is alluding to – is generally around financial risk because we have a system where the principle financial burden of the system falls on the people who are funding the rugby clubs.

“That’s clearly in quite a fragile state at the moment so we need to have a discussion around sharing more risk and around England stars as well.

“What Mark is describing I probably wouldn’t define as central contracting, it’s more shared contracting. It’s been discussed – those types of things are always on the table.

“Clubs invest into these players from a very early age, bringing them through the academy system and developing them to the point of England selection.

“Rightfully clubs need to be able to reap the benefits of developing England players and you also want to properly incentivise clubs to develop and pick England players. You don’t want to make it a disincentive to develop a top star.

“There are certain things in place already and that’s another obvious thing to look at – to make sure that Saracens still want England players in their team while recognising they’re not going to be there the whole time.

“When we were doing the rounds with clubs last summer to talk about the future PGA, central contracts were mooted but I don’t necessarily see them as a shared belief amongst other clubs as well. There’s a balance to be struck here.”

:: Funding Circle is the UK’s largest small business lending platform and has partnered with Premiership Rugby to champion SMEs behind rugby players, teams, and local communities.